“The Making of ‘The Union'” Kicks Off Tribeca

[ March 2, 2011 ] Those who purchased the deluxe CD + DVD version of The Union got a taste but now comes the full-length documentary.  Elton had Cameron Crowe’s document the entire creative process of The Union and on April 20 it will be ready for release.  A free public screening of the movie will kick off the Tribeca Film Festival in NYC, April 20.  Elton will perform for the city of NYC after the screening.

For more details, see http://insidemovies.ew.com/2011/03/02/cameron-crowe-elton-john-tribeca-film-festival

[ Update: 11:00 pm, March 2, 2011, Chicago Time ] EltonJohn.com has added a full feature article on this at http://web.eltonjohn.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20110302&contentid=16791670

Posted in Feature Films, The Making of The Union, The Union, Video | Leave a comment

Elton To Host SNL April 2

[ March 1, 2011 ] Almost 29 years to the day he first appeared on NBC’s Saturday Night Live, Elton will be the show’s host on April 2, 2011.  But that’s not all–Elton, along with Leon Russell, will also be musical guest for the show.

Elton’s first (and only?) appearance on the show was in 1982 when he was the musical guest and performed Empty Garden (Hey, Hey Johnny) and Ball and Chain from when was then his latest album, Jump Up! Empty Garden was especially poignant since Elton was playing it in John Lennon’s adopted home town on one of the city’s quintessential shows.

Surely this will be a milestone for all Elton fans, not to mention all Leon Russell and SNL fans.

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Review: Elton, Bernie & James Build A Garden

[February 28, 2011] Gnomeo & Juliet just came off a hot weekend at the box office as the number one grossing movie in both North America and the UK.

But for those of us here at The 22nd Row, it’s also the recordings that are of extra special note.

I just had my first listen to the soundtrack of Gnomeo & Juliet.

Now for sure, there’s Elton’s classic catalog framed in the new setting of a CGI family movie.  These include Your Song, Bennie and the Jets, Tiny Dancer, Rocket Man, and, of course, Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting) which plays a very key part in the film.  It’s all very charming, good stuff and a very delightful way to introduce Elton to — who!?!? — a fifth generation of Elton-and-Bernie fans!?  Oh my!

But then there are the two new songs written by John/Taupin and performed by Elton — Hello Hello and Love Builds a Garden.  Two very nice songs with Love Builds a Garden being my favorite.  The latter has a bit of a lyrical edge to it when you really think about the song’s meaning.

But then there’s another surprise. Nelly Furtado joing Elton for a new version of Crocodile Rock that really brings it into the pop sounds of 2011.  While it doesn’t surpass the original, this electric, sugar-high version is as intriguing as its opposite — when Elton performed “Croc Rock” as a ballad such as during the mid-90s tour with Ray Cooper.  Fun stuff and also a great way to get new insight int a song that we’ve known for 39 years.

Although lower key from the perspective of us Elton fans,  of special interest are the  segues, allusions and variations on Elton’s music found in the James Newton Howard instrumentals Gnomeo & Juliet, Dandelions, Bennie and the Bunnies, Terrafirminator.  I know some fans find satisfaction and insight in instrumental cover versions of Elton’s music — such fans will find these especially satisfying and insightful.  Given Elton, David and Bernie’s involvement, these interpretations are clearly endorsed by our songwriting heroes.

The album closes with The Tiki, Tiki Room, a fun finale credited to Wally Bong, Thurl Ravenscroft, Fulton Burley, The Mellomen.

So where does this fit on your purchase list of Elton recordings?  In a nutshell, if you haven’t yet purchased The Union, DO get that first; however, even if you are a moderate completist in terms of your Elton John music library, you will want to get this one.  I’d say it is about as satisfying as — or even a little more satisfying than — when we Elton-and-Bernie fans purchased the 1996 version of  Love Songs featuring You Can Make History Young Again and No More Valentines.

Posted in Album Discussions, Bernie Taupin, Feature Films, Gnomeo & Juliet, Gnomeo & Juliet, Love Songs (1996), The Union, Uncategorized, Video | Leave a comment

Elton on Cover of Rolling Stone

For the first time since 1976, Elton graces the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

On sale February 4 at news stands, you can also read excerpts at http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/elton-john-gives-billy-joel-tough-love-in-new-rolling-stone-cover-story-20110202

Usually we say that you can find the interview with Elton in the edition of Rolling Stone with “so and so” on the cover.

This time, it’s great to simply say, “Look for the issue or Rolling Stone with Elton on the cover!”

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Two New EJ Songs in “Gnomeo & Juliet”

The animated move, “Gnomeo & Juliet,” hits theatres February 11.  With Elton and David Furnish serving as executive producers, it features some tracks from Elton’s back catalog along with two new songs, “Hello, Hello” and “Love Builds a Garden.”

For more details, check out Elton’s official page at http://web.eltonjohn.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20110125&contentid=16497162

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Under The Radar: BernieJTaupin.com

While the recordings and performances under the name of Elton John are the main entry points of our interest, let’s not forget Bernie Taupin’s outstanding, official website at http://www.BernieJTaupin.com. (Please note:  This is Mr. Taupin’s only official website.)

Flying a bit under the radar with his typical low-key presence, Bernie again is the Brown Dirt Cowboy to Elton’s Captain Fantastic.  And that’s part of what contributes to the site being such a great view.

Clearly, you will have interest in his bio, gallery and most of all his lyrics.  But what hooked me the most was his blog.  Not only fresh and astute, the blog underscores how Bernie is a different person from Elton, living a different lifestyle.  Really fresh vantages that would grab my interest even there wasn’t some guy named Reg Dwight aka Elton John.

I’d say “Give Bernie his own TV Talk show,” but really, it’s his very low-key profile that keeps him real.

Now there’s no place to write Bernie directly at his site, but after reading his blog, it was the first time in something like 15 years that I had a hankering to send fan mail.  Maybe I will track him down via U.S. Postal Service.

Bernie:  What a smart and *cool* site.

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Elton & Ray in London: The Before

[ Submitted Wednesday 26 January 2011. ]

In 1994 Elton John played about a dozen nights with Ray Cooper at London’s Royal Albert Hall. For two of those nights, I was there and of all the different Elton performances I have seen before and since, those shows remain my personal highlights.

On Friday, some 16+ years after those shows, Elton returns with Ray to play one night only at London’s Royal Opera House. I have my ticket, and I can’t wait.

I know why I like this kind of performance. I think it was Sting who said that the quality of Elton’s music is evident when you strip it down to its bare elements, as he did with his cover of Come Down in Time on the Two Rooms album. For the first half of the show, the entire audience is focused on one individual and his piano, and the musicality is fantastic. You don’t feel the need for the band; you don’t look for the big guitar riffs or layered vocals. These are the songs in their purest form, not too dissimilar to the way they would have first been written.

These shows also allow for extended intos and outros; Levon’s long ending, the intro to Take Me To The Pilot where most people don’t know what song it is yet – for me, this is why I love attending a live show, because it allows the artist to be free from the constraints of the four-minute single or the 60-minute album. I’m not necessarily going to listen to a 12-minute rendition of Rocket Man over and over again, but at a concert, when you’re in the moment, it’s magic.

And now let me proclaim the greatness of Ray Cooper.

I remember, in ’94, arriving and seeing a stage that is 80% percussion and 20% piano – tympani, snare drums, congas, vibraphone, cymbals, and of course the massive gong at the back. I started playing piano before I knew of Elton John. I started playing percussion *because* of Ray Cooper.

And so the audience settles in and enjoys immensely the first half of the show, where the percussion is seemingly a silent backdrop to the Elton and his piano. And then, during the long intro to Funeral For a Friend, a shadowy figure appears amongst the percussion. Ray takes centre stage as the song crescendos and for a few moments it feels like Elton John is the sideshow. Ray is both delightfully manic and professionally restrained. Just about anyone can play a tambourine, but there are few people who you would want to *watch* playing a tambourine.

Ray Cooper is genius; the perfect, quirky augment to Elton’s piano. And the caliber and energy of the evening is raised once Ray takes the stage.

If I could add yet another reason what makes these shows great – the setlist is unique to all other Elton shows. Obscure, tender songs not appropriate for the big band are on the list. Rare performances of classics that big fans want to hear – where a casual fan might disappointed at the lack of hits and no backing band, this is a show for the true fan, like a love letter that Elton and Ray seem to send about every 10 years or so.

It may seem a bit strange to write a pre-concert review, but the best part of an anticipated event is the anticipation itself. And I must admit that I suspect this will be the last time I will ever see these two men perform together. Notwithstanding their age, I normally live in Canada and I’m lucky enough to be in England this year, as I also was 17 years ago. These shows are rare enough, nevermind the chance that it might come to Vancouver.

But I’m not complaining. Three opportunities across nearly 20 years to watch this performance – what a bonus.

Posted in Concert News, Concert Reviews, Concerts | Leave a comment

More Fan Thoughts on “The Union”

[ This item is in response to a post dated December 2010 from a contributor named “David.”  You can review their comments here. ]

Just saw a rather critical review of  The Union by another 22nd Rower.  Wow, more proof that there is no accounting for taste.  Not that I needed more proof given how many people out there like mushrooms.  Me, I can’t abide them.

Anyway, I have to second Jim’s reply.  Notwithstanding the inclusion of a few trite numbers, I couldn’t be happier with this collaboration.  I’ve put it through many listens now and just like a good tomato sauce, it keeps getting better and better with each reprise.  Even better, it doesn’t eventually run out.

My wife, on the other hand, likes Leon Russel’s voice about as much as I like mushrooms. 🙂   So, I play the album when she’s out.

But, my goodness, there are so many “Elton John” albums out there I think it’s great that he does these other projects.  What exactly am I going to do with another  Songs From the  West Coast?  I’ve already got one of those.  Note to Elton:  I’ll happily take another if you’ve half a mind.

Oh yeah, I wanted to also comment, specifically, on a few of songs.  I don’t understand the critique of “Hey Ahab” with respect to how many times the chorus is repeated.  Seems like a completely normal number of times for an up-tempo song to me.  Plus the chorus is the best part of the song.  And regarding “I Should Have Sent Roses,” I didn’t think this at first, but this one really has grown on me.  Now I find myself really looking forward to this song coming up.

Finally, if you keep in mind that “In the Hands of Angels” was a gift from Leon to Elton you can’t help but enjoy this one more.  This actually gives me goose bumps: “There was nothing I could say…I was in the hands of angels.”

[Click to view additional comments by “Bill C” & “Daryl Treger” .]

From Bill C:

I was very leary of the Union when i heard about it. Then, I heard “….Roses” prior to the release. I wasn’t impressed, and it’s still my least favorite song on the album. However, the album as a whole I give 5 stars. At this point, as much as I enjoy new albums of just Elton, this is a benchmark. The fact that Rolling Stone gave it FIVE stars, and listed it as 3rd best album of the year is an indication that Elton is finally being recognized for his artistry in the present and not just for “…Yellow Brick Road”, etc. This is the first album in a while that I make a point of listening to front to back, not skipping anything. (OK, sometimes I skip Roses :) . However this is something special. Further, I had a chance to see Elton and Leon at the Bridge School benefit, and it was amazing. The crowd had clearly never heard any of these songs, but they were wildly on their feet for Monkey Suit, Hearts have Turned to stone, and Ahab. My friend who went to the show, who is a moderate EJ fan said at one point…”Oh my God! What is going on down their. He said it in sheer amazement. This is a special album. I hope Elton takes this non-hits mentality into whatever he does next. The Union to me is an Artistic Tour de Force.

From Daryl Treger:

In interviews with Elton recently that I’ve seen on TV, he said that making this album was indeed a revelation in that it was recorded “the way it used to be” – live in the studio. He said that he felt the sound and the “soul” came out so well, that he will never go back to the more “recent” way of recording (with lots of overdubs, etc.).

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“On A Christmas Day:” Congratulations to Elton & David

From EltonJohn.com:

Elton and David are very pleased to announce the birth of their son Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John on Christmas Day.

Because of wildly off-the-mark coverage in the media, Elton and David state that only coverage linked from eltonjohn.com/news should be considered accurate and worthy of your attention.

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Grammy Nod for “If It Wasn’t For Bad”

If It Wasn’t For Bad has received a Grammy nomination in the category of Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals.

If It Wasn’t For Bad released as a single in August and is eligible for the 2011 awards.  However, The Union was released in October and that means it is not eligible until the 2012 awards.  U2 experienced a similar situation about a decade ago, but did well in both years.  U2’s single It’s A Beautiful Day won for 2001, but the album from which it came,  All That You Can’t Leave Behind, was not eligible until the 2002 ceremonies when it did very well.  So definitely keep the faith for Elton and Leon and The Union in both 2011 and 2012.

Congratulations to Elton and Leon and all associated with If It Wasn’t For Bad. Here’s looking forward to the 2011 and 2012 Grammys.

The following is a list of nominations with which If It Wasn’t For Bad competes, courtesy of The Wall Street Journal.

Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals:

  • “Don’t Stop Believin’ (Regionals Version)” — “Glee” Cast
  • “Misery” — Maroon 5
  • “The Only Exception” — Paramore
  • “Babyfather” — Sade
  • “Hey, Soul Sister (Live)” — Train
  • Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals:
  • “Airplanes II” — B.o.B, Eminem & Hayley Williams
  • “Imagine” — Herbie Hancock, Pink, India.Arie, Seal, Konono No. 1, Jeff Beck & Oumou Sangare
  • “If It Wasn’t For Bad” — Elton John & Leon Russell
  • “Telephone” — Lady Gaga & Beyoncé
  • “California Gurls” — Katy Perry & Snoop Dogg

Posted in Album Discussions, Awards, Discography, Grammys, The Union | Leave a comment